In the face of ecological crisis, how can art, design and philosophy effect long-term change?
Connecting Formafantasma’s current exhibition Cambio and the Serpentine’s ongoing environmental project Back to Earth, this discussion brings together artists and practices that span multiple continents, perspectives and media, but which share key concerns: how can we do better by learning more about the systems that we are a part of? How do we go about changing these systems, and our own behaviours as a result?
Manthia Diawara will talk about his new film for Back to Earth, which connects local economies in Yene, Senegal with philosophical approaches to climate change drawn from Édouard Glissant; Anab Jain from Superflux will describe her studio’s process of introducing audiences to possible futures through multi-media installations, films, objects, systems and technologies, and Formafantasma will focus on what they have learnt from Cambio and from the pandemic, what the outcomes of both might be, through their methods as designers and as teachers.
This conversation follows on from Tracing the Roots, a podcast episode released earlier this year as part of the Serpentine’s Back to Earth podcast, exploring the relationship between ecology and design.
Anab Jain imagines and builds future worlds we can experience in the present moment. By creating new ways of seeing, being and acting, she inspires and challenges us to look critically at the decisions and choices we make today.
A designer, filmmaker and futurist, Jain co-founded the vanguard laboratory, design and film studio Superflux with Jon Ardern to parse uncertainties around our shared futures. From climate change and growing inequality, to the emergence of artificial intelligence and the future of work, Superflux explore some of the biggest challenges of our times — and investigate the potential and unintended consequences of these challenges.
Jain is also Professor at Design Investigations, University of Applied Arts, Vienna. Her work has won awards from Apple Computers Inc., UNESCO, ICSID and the UK Government’s Innovation Department and has been exhibited at MoMA New York, V&A Museum, Vitra Design Museum, MAK, Arkdes and the National Museum of China amongst others.
Manthia Diawara is a writer, filmmaker, cultural theorist, scholar and art historian. Diawara holds the title of University Professor at New York University, where he is Director of the Institute of African American Affairs.
Diawara was born in Bamako, Mali and received his early education in France. He later received a Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1985. Prior to teaching at NYU, Diawara taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Much of his research has been in the field of black cultural studies, though his work has differed from the traditional approach to such study formulated in Britain in the early 1980s. Along with other notable recent scholars, Diawara has sought to incorporate consideration of the material conditions of African Americans to provide a broader context for the study of African diasporic culture. An aspect of this formulation has been the privileging of “Blackness” in all its possible forms rather than as relevant to a single, perhaps monolithic definition of black culture.
Diawara has contributed significantly to the study of black film. In 1992, Indiana University Press published his African Cinema: Politics & Culture and in 1993, Routledge published a volume he edited titled Black American Cinema. A filmmaker himself, Diawara has written and directed a number of films.
His 1998 book In Search of Africa is an account of his return to his childhood home of Guinea and was published by Harvard University Press. Diawara is a founding editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a journal of arts, culture and politics dedicated to work that engages contemporary Black concerns. He serves on the advisory board of October, and is also on the editorial collective of Public Culture. In 2003, Diawara released We Won’t Budge: A Malaria Memoir, the title a tribute to Salif Keita’s anthemic protest song Nou Pas Bouger.
Andrea Trimarchi (1983) and Simone Farresin (1980) are Formafantasma, an Italian design duo based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Their interest in product design developed on the IM master course at Design Academy Eindhoven, where they graduated in July 2009.
Since then, Formafantasma’s practice has been characterised by experimental material investigations and detailed explorations of the history, context and implications of the transformation of natural resources into commodities. In perceiving their role as a bridge between craft, industry, object and user, they are interested in forging links between their research-based practice and a wider design industry. As a result, works by Formafantasma have been commissioned by a variety of partners including Fendi, Max Mara – Sportmax, Hermès, Droog, Nodus rug, J&L Lobmeyr, Gallery Giustini / Stagetti Roma, Gallery Libby Sellers, Established and Sons, Lexus, Krizia International and Flos.
Whether designing for a client or investigating alternative applications of materials, Formafantasma apply the same rigorous attention to context, process and detail to every project they undertake. The added nuance for the duo is that they do so with an eye to the historical, political and social forces that have shaped their environments.
Their work has been presented and published internationally and museums such as New York’s MoMA, London’s Victoria and Albert, New York’s Metropolitan Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou, the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, the Stedelijk’s-Hertogenbosch, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, MUDAC Lausanne, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in North Carolina and the MAK Museum in Vienna have all acquired Formafantasma’s designs for their permanent collections.
In March 2011 Paola Antonelli of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and esteemed design critic Alice Rawsthorn listed their studio amongst a handful of practices that would shape the future of design. Andrea and Simone are lecturing and heading workshops in various Universities and Institutions. Currently they are teaching at the ‘Well Being’ and ‘Contextual Design’ Departments of the Design Academy Eindhoven. This exhibition will become the foundation of the new Masters programme that Formafantasma are leading from autumn 2020 at the Design Academy Eindhoven, titled ‘GEODESIGN’. Since October 2016, they have been at the head of the Design bachelor at MADE Program in Siracusa, Italy.